September 2015 issue

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Coastal wonderment

From the wild and spectacular coastlines of Cornwall to the family-friendly seaside resorts of Kent, the UK’s South Coast throws up a selection of experiences for visiting international students. Join Nicola Hancox as she takes a whistle-stop tour.

A warm welcome and glorious sunshine awaits visiting students that have selected to study on the UK’s South Coast. Whether after a little peace and quiet (think quaint fishing village) or the noise, colour and vibrancy of a seaside city (think Brighton) they are sure to find it somewhere along this varied coastal stretch.

Boasting the mildest and sunniest climate in the whole of the United Kingdom, there is much to discover about the ancient Celtic kingdom of Cornwall. And the journey begins before students even reach the county border, according to Alan Patterson at The Cornwall School of English. He suggests students arrive in style by travelling on the Great Western Railway which chugs along the same route as the old Cornish Riviera Express. A night train (with cabin) from London Paddington to Penzance costs approximately UK£97 (US$152) per person for a single ticket.

Safe and traditional, Cornwall is the ideal study location for international students experiencing life away from home for the first-time, says Kate Williams at SUL Language Schools, a family-owned organisation based in the small village and fishing port of Par. “There are endless inspiring sites of interest to visit in Cornwall that tell a story,” enthuses Kate, including Tintagal Castle, a historical ruin inextricably linked to the legend of King Arthur. The fishing village of Charlestown is another location guaranteed to transport students back in time, in this case the 16th and 17th centuries. “It is a wonderful, unspoiled example of a late Georgian working port, full of character,” and has been used in numerous film and television dramas, says Kate.

Cornwall School of English meanwhile is located in the beautiful town of Marazion, location of St Michael’s Mount – another historical spectacle dating back to the 12th century. “As well as learning English, students will have the opportunity to appreciate stunning scenery, beautiful cliff walks and plunge themselves into high adrenaline water sports,” adds Alan. Indeed, surfing and sailing are hugely popular with prime surf conditions in northern parts of the county. More sedate activities include foraging walks in the wild or a simple saunter along one of its charming beaches, says Alan.

Just east of Cornwall is the county of Devon and, like its neighbour, it too has some pretty arresting coastal scenes. England’s very own Cote d’Azur comprises the seaside resorts of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. “It’s a fact that Torquay is a little further away than some of the better known language destinations but our students see that as an advantage,” says Judith Hands at Torquay International School (TIS). “We promote Torquay as being a very traditional English place, big enough to have fun, but small enough to be able to get in contact with the English people who live here.” A walk on the moors (Dartmoor National Park) is top of Judith’s list of things to do. The area inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime classic Hound of the Baskervilles and a staff member at TIS has given a talk to students on the novel which has proven popular, says Judith. Agatha Christie is another literary export of Torquay and an annual international festival celebrating her life and works is hugely popular, as is her familial home, Greenway House. The town also boasts a first-rate marina and welcomed the fourth leg of international sailing endurance race Solitaire du Figaro in June this year, says Judith.

The historic city of Exeter has roots dating back to the Roman era and much of the city wall (which is over 2,000 years old) remains in tact. Andy Bungay at Exeter Academy says, “Hang out for a day in the wonderful Roman city centre where you will find a harmonious mixture of old and new buildings, excellent shopping, café culture and open spaces, great music and entertainment, not to mention the lovely old café in the crypt of the Cathedral.” He also recommends walking down to the historic quayside area to browse the quaint craft and antique shops. Hire a canoe or kayak for the afternoon and experience the quay by water. Or pop on a cycle helmet and peddle along the canal which passes working locks, pubs and nature reserves. Exeter Quay is also home to the South West’s largest indoor climbing wall. Alternatively, “Take a train-ride on the famous Tarka line, a gorgeous meander through Devon’s most picturesque scenery to the market town of Barnstaple and continue to the popular surf spots of Croyde and Woolacombe,” suggests Andy. Or amble along the Otter River pathway from the quaint seaside town of Budleigh Salterton (roughly 30 miles south of Exeter). “You’ll eventually come to the Otterton Mill, serving delicious food and crafts,” he relates.

The literary world was equally as captivated by nearby Dorset. Authors Enid Blyton, T.E. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen are among those that visited or lived in the county at some stage or other. “Bournemouth & Poole is the most popular area in which to study English outside of London,” according to Emily Shaw-Leam at Anglo-Continental School of English. In addition, it is one of the sunniest parts of the country with an average of 7.7 hours of the stuff each day. It is also the largest settlement in Dorset and has two universities, lending it a truly international vibe with plenty of themed activities and festivals all-year-round.

Capital School of English is located in the vibrant University Quarter of the town, says Managing Director Spencer Fordham, with bars, restaurants, parks and leisure facilities on tap. “Students tend to look for a vibrant year-round destination with living costs very much in mind,” and the city is conveniently located for students to use as a base to explore other cultural places of interest such as Stonehenge, Oxford and Bath, he adds.

The Bournemouth Air Show – a free four-day spectacular with aerobatic displays from fighter jets and display teams such as the Red Arrows – attracts millions of visitors every August and was recently awarded ‘gold’ in the Tourism Event of the Year category at VisitBritain’s Awards for Excellence, says Emily. The Wheels Festival (showcasing classic cars, monster trucks and super-cars) in May is another headline event worth getting in a spin about, adds Spencer. Watch a premiership football match, visit the beautiful New Forest or enjoy one of Bournemouth’s award winning beaches, adds Emily.

“Whatever the weather, an ice cream always goes down well!” says David Jones at ETC International College, and a number of award-winning parlours have materialised in the last few years, he says. Go to a ‘band night’ in one of the local pubs or visit the Russell-Cotes art gallery and museum, “A fascinating glimpse into the lives of an aristocratic family who travelled the world and collected art wherever they went”. Bournemouth also boasts the world’s first pier-to-shore zipwire, says David, giving fearless students an exhilarating “zip surf” over the waves below. “It’s not cheap and it’s not for the faint-hearted, but it’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry!”

Isle of Wight
The UK’s largest island is located just south of Portsmouth in Hampshire and is a county in its own right. The quickest way to get to the island is by foot-passenger ferry from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde: journey time 22 minutes. “Students love it here because it is safe and there are plenty of sports to do,” says Pat Suttmann at the Isle of Wight College and she suggests having a sailing lesson, visiting Osborne House or walking along one of its fine sandy beaches. Yachting enthusiasts will appreciate the Georgian harbour town of Cowes, famous for Cowes-week at the end of July. Kayaking and windsurfing are other high octane sports on offer on the island. Hosting two internationally renowned music festivals (Bestival and the Isle of Wight Festival) its reputation on the music scene is also growing. Gayoon Deprasert, a group leader of students from Thai agency ECE spent nine weeks observing classes, activities and generally enjoying life on the island. She says, “It has a beautiful nature, historical sites and each town has extraordinary attractions and festivals people worldwide long for.” Another agent, Héctor Greciano Martínez from Gredos San Diego Cooperativa in Spain, notes the importance of finding a quiet place where students feel as if they are ‘at home’, particularly in a host family environment. In the Isle of Wight, “Those families always have given a warm and nice atmosphere where my students can speak to them finding a new family ready to listen and take care of them.” Héctor compliments the island’s impressive geology; “Visitors will find an amazing landscape with really interesting attractions for children and adults and plenty of options for different sports. It is a 100 per cent safe destination where my students have stayed for many years and they will continue visiting in the future.”

Castles (Arundel, Bodiam, Herstmonceux), art galleries (Brighton/Hove Museum and Art Gallery) and grand architecture (Brighton’s Royal Pavilion and Chichester Cathedral) are plentiful in East and West Sussex. “People from all over the region come to Chichester (capital of West Sussex) on weekends to visit our historical sites such as the Cathedral with its 600-year-old spire, our parks and Chichester Harbour where people can go out on boat trips,” say Maira Cutting and Laura Gifford, International Business Development Officers at Chichester College. The only city in West Sussex, it combines stylish living with rural countryside and is the gateway to the South Downs, a national park popular with ramblers, mountain bikers, horse-riders and paragliders. The main campus is surrounded by plenty of green space, notes Laura, but Bishop’s Garden, a cathedral garden located just a five-minute walk away from the main site, is great for a spot of lunch or wiling away the afternoon.

Big, brash, bold and bohemian Brighton (or ‘London-by-the-sea’) is located in East Sussex and according to Nic Roe at Brighton Language College this seaside city is “alive throughout winter as well as the summer”. He suggests walking through ‘the Lanes’ (a popular shopping area), experiencing the extraordinary Royal Pavilion (a former Royal residence) or trying out ‘the local’ (the pub). “It has an amazing nightlife and is only 50 minutes away from London by train.”

The Garden County was recently voted top family holiday destination by Lonely Planet. Accolades continue in the seaside town of Margate which made it onto Rough Guide’s 2013 list of top places to visit and The Guardian newspaper’s 2015 list of holiday hotspots, according to Dave McKenna at English in Margate. “Margate is known as the original seaside town. Long before Brighton, Southend or Blackpool were offering seaside getaways for busy Londoners, Margate was the destination for sand, sea, sunshine and smiles.” Dreamland, a recently restored amusement park, Turner Contemporary art gallery or one of Margate’s many festivals are some of the suggested social activities. “Margate can offer a true English-style seaside experience: live music, jazz festivals, watching the tides and beautiful sun downs. No wonder Turner painted his best paintings on the South Coast,” relates Egle Kesyliene from Ames Language Academy in Lithuania. “Simply said, the whole location has an amazing genius loci,” enthuses Alena Aichlmanova at Czech agency Channel Crossings.

As the only language school in Ramsgate, Isobel Clarke at Churchill House School of English Language celebrates the fact that this small seaside town has its very own mean time (approximately five minutes and 41 seconds ahead of Greenwich Mean Time). Painter Vincent van Gogh lived in Ramsgate for a time in 1876, teaching French at a local school. He was inspired by views of the harbour from his boarding house and made several sketches.

With its golden sandy beaches, cafés and pubs Ramsgate Royal Harbour is a great place to pass the time with friends, offers Isobel. Students should explore the underground tunnels that helped save hundreds of Ramsgate residents during the Second World War or visit the imposing Dover Castle, a defensive bastion throughout history.

Nestled between Margate and Ramsgate is Broadstairs, a delightful seaside town popular with international students looking for a typical British experience, offers Peter Dalton at Chaucer College which has a second campus in the university city of Canterbury. Visit Faversham – home to an incredible rare set of documents (the Magna Carta) worth an estimated UK£20 million (US$31 million), says Peter, or sample the native oysters in Whitstable. Enjoy traditional tea and scones in a tearoom in St Margaret’s Bay after a breezy walk along the White Cliffs of Dover, or experience UNESCO World Heritage Site Canterbury Cathedral, St Martin’s Church or the ruins of Augustine’s Abbey. “Evensong in the cathedral provides an exceptional experience,” enthuses Peter.

Feeling peckish?
Battered fish, chips drenched in vinegar, and scones thick with clotted cream and gloopy jam are just some South Coast staples. We ask educators what’s tasty, what’s cheap and where they like to eat.

“You can’t beat a plate of fish and chips at a local restaurant on a summer’s evening.”
Laura Gifford, Chichester College

“Minghella ice cream, oak-smoked garlic (at the Garlic Festival if possible) and Gallybagger cheese.”
Pat Suttmann , Isle of Wight College

“Students should try traditional Cornish foods including the Cornish pasty – which contributes UK£150 million (US$234 million) per year to the Cornish economy – or a cream tea. Be sure to put the jam on the scone first, followed by Cornish clotted cream (a Devonshire cream tea is the opposite – cream followed by jam)!”
Kate Williams, SUL Language Schools

“The English in Margate social programme incorporates a student lunch club, which tours Margate’s most attractive restaurants ranging from Lithuanian lunches at the beautiful Rikus for just UK£6 (US$9), to “the tastiest pizzas”, according to food critic Zoe Williams, at GB Pizza as well as Greek at Georgios and gourmet burgers at Greedy Cow.”
Dave McKenna, English in Margate

“Try The City Fish Bar in St Margaret’s Street (in Canterbury) for the best fish and chips I know and great, friendly service. Café des Amis do a special early evening dinner of two courses for just under UK£14 (US$22) including a drink. Kitch, in the High Street, [is a must] for its wonderful, unusual and ‘healthy’ cakes and super coffee.” Peter Dalton, Chaucer College

“Pompoko – cheap and cheerful Japanese food for under a fiver (US$8). La Choza – Mexican street food diner and award winning Mexican food for under a tenner (US$16). Burger Brothers – for the best burgers on the planet starting at UK£6 (US$9).” Nic Roe, Brighton Language College

1. Jurassic Coast (Devon and Dorset)
The Jurassic Coast is the UK’s first natural World Heritage Site and covers 155 kilometres from Orcombe Point in East Devon to near Swanage in Dorset and documents 180 million years of geological history. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds will be full of images of natural phenomena like the cove at Lulworth, the rock arch at Durdle Door and chalk formations at Old Harry Rocks.

2. Brighton Marine Palace & Pier (Sussex)
Sugary doughnuts, fish and chips, penny slot machines, fairground rides…students could waste an entire day on this Victorian pleasure pier. Open 364 days a year, stroll from one end to the other (524 metres), sit and relax in one of the stripy deck chairs or buy a stick of Brighton rock (hard candy) as an edible souvenir.

3. Goodwood (West Sussex)
Like fast cars? Enjoy horseracing? Fancy learning how to fly? The grounds of Goodwood House in Chichester, Sussex encompass a racecourse, racing track, airfield, golf course and cricket pitch. “It hosts the Goodwood Festival of Speed [the annual motor racing event], Glorious Goodwood and Goodwood Revival [horse racing events] which are all hugely popular events attended by people from around the world. It is also the head office of Rolls Royce cars,” says Maira Cutting from Chichester College.

4. Viking Coastal Trail (Kent)
According to Dave McKenna at English in Margate this delightful coastal trail is perfect for a leisurely (largely traffic-free) cycle ride and there are plenty of cycle-hire companies for those who may have left their bike back home. Roughly 50 kilometres in length, the path passes through Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate and Pegwell Bay (where the Vikings were purported to have first landed) before heading inland and back towards Reculver along quiet country lanes. Attractions along the way include a Viking ship, author Charles Dickens’ house in Broadstairs and smugglers’ coves.

5. Eden Project (Cornwall)
“Visit the Eden Project which includes the largest rainforest in captivity,” says Kate Williams at SUL Language Schools. This space-age looking visitor attraction promises an educational day out. As the largest indoor rainforest in the world its biomes house stunning plant life in tropical and Mediterranean climate conditions. Other attractions onsite include a giant bee (sculpture), England’s longest zip wire and a rainforest canopy walkway. The venue is also a great concert venue and hosts a series of live music performances during the summer. This year artists have included Paloma Faith, Elton John, Paolo Nutini, Ben Howard and Spandau Ballet. Entrance fee: UK£20 (US$31).

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